BY Will Brantley December 13, 2020
Our final Rut Report of the season brings promising news to Southeastern hunters still holding a buck tag. There’s a mixed bag of activity here in Kentucky, where the late muzzleloader season just opened. As I write this on Saturday morning, it’s warm and windy, but I got a text just a few minutes ago from my buddy Ryan, who sat out the rain in an old barn this morning, and shot a fine 8-pointer that cruised past shortly after daybreak.
I’m getting lots of trail-camera photos over bait sites of small bachelor groups of bucks, some of which were moving well in daylight during last week’s cold snap. That’s slowed down a bit during this warm spell but there’s another big cold front in the forecast for this week that should get them moving again. Many of the mature bucks, especially, are broken up and worn down from a long November.
On the other hand, I’m seeing firsthand some signs of late rut activity — including a nice 8-pointer that we watched out the kitchen window yesterday morning that was locked down in a fencerow thicket with a doe. I’ve never thought of the secondary rut as a concise “event” quite like the first rut. Instead, it’s an ever-present factor throughout the month of December, and all the more reason to hunt good food sources where you’re seeing plenty of does. The bucks are still interested in them.
The report is even more varied farther south. Tyler Jordan shot his biggest buck to date last week at Honey Brake in east-central Louisiana. “There’s been light sparring the last couple days I’ve been here,” Jordan says. “Mostly younger bucks, but then you’ll see some bucks still running together. I’d say it’s still two to three weeks from busting loose. Most mature bucks seem focused on the feed at this point.”
In southern Arkansas, Tucker Ward, with War Eagle boats, says there’s still some rut activity happening, but that the best of it is trickling to an end. He believes that’s the case most years in his part of the world, where late-cycling does and doe fawns create on-again, off-again opportunity that’s frequently more visible down south than in the Midwest. Ward killed a great buck a couple of weeks ago with his bow and is focused on ducks now.
Looking back, it’s been a great season overall here in western Kentucky and northwestern Tennessee. Rut festivities kicked off this year on Oct. 25 when a big cold front passed through. I rattled up a good deer by accident with my climbing stand that afternoon, and ended up filling my Kentucky buck tag with him. I was hunting a scrape line on a ridge where I’d never sat before, and it was a nice welcome to the area. A few weeks later, on Nov. 2, I shot one of my best bow bucks to date — again, while hunting a scrape line in Tennessee. The highlight of my season came on Nov. 14, when my 6-year-old son shot his first deer — a surprise 10-pointer — on opening day of Kentucky rifle season. My dad killed a great buck a few days later, on Nov. 18, that was chasing does in a food plot, and my buddy Miles (and Southwest Rut Reporter) followed that up by killing another stud 8-pointer from the same stand — also chasing a doe — on Nov. 24. My wife, Michelle, punched one of her Tennessee buck tags on Nov. 27, with another nice 8-point with long G2s that was dogging a doe in a cover crop rye field.
That’s a lot of action — and venison — crammed into a few short weeks, but it’s an illustration of just how productive the rut can be. My biggest takeaway from it all? You have to be out there hunting when it’s good. We don’t target specific deer so much as we do good areas where we know multiple mature bucks live. We put ourselves in good stands, and we stay there. It’s not a rocket-science strategy — but it sure does work. I’m guiding a late-season muzzleloader hunt this week and after that, I’ll be pulling my stands down for the year, and calling it quits on another great season.
But that doesn’t mean it’s over for everyone because seasons run long down south. There are still firearm hunting opportunities into January in Louisiana, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida, and archery opportunities well into February and even March in parts of Arkansas and Virginia. If your freezer is running low of venison, you still have plenty of time to fix the problem. Get out there, good luck, and be safe.
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Will Brantley is an outdoor writer and whitetail outfitter from western Kentucky. He spends much of his fall bouncing back and forth across the border between Kentucky and Tennessee.